Friday, April 27, 2012


Guest Post by by John Vorhaus

So here I am out promoting my new novel, Lucy in the Sky, and I’m doing it the hard way, through Twitter, Facebook and guest blog posts like the one you’re reading here. It’s a challenge for me, because I’m a writer who loves to write, and I’d much rather be working on my next novel than out promoting this one. In the world of my imagining, I don’t have to do any outreach to readers at all, because they’ll all find their way to my work (in the millions!) by magic. But that’s the world of my imagining. Much as I would have it otherwise, I live in the real world, and I’ve always found that reality works better for me when I accept it rather than fight it.

I’ve devised a strategy for this, a mantra if you will, that helps me cope with all sorts of life situations where I encounter a gap between the way things are and the way I wish they would be. In times of such stress, I tell myself simply, “This is not a good thing. This is not a bad thing. It’s just a thing that is.” That keeps me balanced, present in the moment, and generally happy. And nowadays I’m leaning on this mantra almost daily as I attempt to meet the demands of publishing in the post-paper world.

Which doesn’t mean that I can’t repurpose reality just a little bit to suit my needs. For instance, being an older human, I confess to harboring a certain prejudice against what we might call “entrepreneurial publishing.” Back in the day, this sort of work was called… dark drum roll please… vanity press, and carried with it all sorts of negative connotations. The assumption was that anyone who published his or her own book was somehow not worthy of consideration by “real” publishers and therefore by readers. Of course, we all know that the model and the marketplace have completely changed. Today’s consumers of entertainment, especially young ones, recognize that the quality is in the product, not the brand. Just ask anyone who’s ever downloaded music from their favorite unsigned band. Therefore, simply for the sake of feeling more comfortable in the post-paper world, I choose to follow the new model of music distribution and call what I do indy publishing, not self-publishing. This helps me sleep at night.

There will be those who still see it otherwise, and I honor their right to their perspective. For instance, I recently received the following comment in response to one of my essays on this subject: “Self-publishing by any other name,” wrote a skeptical reader, “is still self-publishing. I suspect readers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in this developing electronic world. They’re catching on to the little tricks authors use to say, ‘See, I’m not a self-publisher.’ Publisher Imprint x # of employees 1 = self-publishing.”

Now, I love the math of this. I do. It tickles my whimsy. But I hate the pejorative undertone. I agree that readers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but I suspect that this sophistication manifests itself not in trying to sleuth out a writer’s publishing cred but rather to cut through the clutter and find, and enjoy, a great read, regardless of its provenance.

So is Lucy in the Sky a great read? Well, I think so, but what would you expect me to say? I can tell you what it’s about: A coming-of-age story set in 1969, it tells the tale of Gene Steen, an earnest young striver who gets a chance to make his hippie dreams come true when the eponymous Lucy rolls into town. I can tell you who I think the book appeals to: young seekers, old geezers and anyone else who wants to experience or re-experience the Sixties. I can even tell you the point of the story: that being a hippie isn’t about love beads and peace signs but about the choices you make and the chances you take. If that sounds like something that floats your boat, then I can point you to places on the web where you can sample the wares and decide for yourself whether the book is worth read. The rest is up to you.

But when you’re done, and if you’ve enjoyed it, I’ll bet you won’t remember whether Lucy was released by my former publisher, Random House, or my current one, Bafflegab Books. And then, who knows? Maybe you’ll read some of my other stuff. Goodness knows there’s plenty of it out there – more every day. And that’s how a writer, or at least this writer, makes his place in the post-paper world: not by magic but by hard work. By writing, and promoting, and then writing and promoting some more. I love the writing part. I don’t love the promoting part, but I recognize it as an absolute necessity.

It’s not a good thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing that is.
And that’s my attitude. For publishing, for life as a whole, it’s not a bad one to have.

John Vorhaus has published damn near 20 titles, including five novels and a dozen books on poker. His comedy writing book, The Comic Toolbox, is considered a classic how-to book for writers, and will be making money for someone long after he’s dead, buried and gone. He tweets for no apparent reason @TrueFactBarFact and secretly controls the world from


  1. John, it's always fun to read your tweets, and to have you as our guest on the screenwriting chats. Reading your novels just ups it to the Nth degree of entertainment. Great post. And I agree, promoting is hard work, but necessary so we can keep writing and get paid.

  2. John - GREAT post, thank you so much! I agree, self-publishing has come a long way, but there will always be those who look down upon those who take this as their path to seeing their work in print (or e-versions). For some, "Indie" is the only way to go. To each his own.
    Regardless of how you publish, unless you've got the deep pockets of a movie star or are fortunate enough to have been born into money (or you've become a "reality" TV ah hem... "star") then it's up to you, the author, to promote your work. It's just part of the job, one of the many hats you wear as an author.
    And it looks like you've got the right mindset underneath that hat!

  3. Love your attitude, John. Things just are. I like it. In fact, I may steal it. And as for your title. Excellent. Brings back memories.

    Joylene Nowell Butler, Author